NHS COVID-19 update blocked for breaching privacy rules

The NHS COVID-19 app, run by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), has had its latest update blocked due to a breach in the privacy terms outlined by Apple and Google.

NHS Coronavirus app, available on Apple and Android devices, was designed to include a new feature that would allow users (upon showing a positive COVID test result) to upload a list of all locations and establishments they have visited using a phone scan QR code.

The Exposure Notification System built into the app’s software would then alert other users who had entered the same venue to monitor their symptoms or to immediately be tested. This update relies on location tracking for its function – a tracking type heavily reliant on Bluetooth monitoring of surrounding devices with the app installed – outlawed by Apple and Google privacy agreements.

This is the latest in a calamitous string of COVID app mishaps by the UK Government who had only recently scrapped plans for their own rival system to the Apple and Android contact tracing system.

Total development of the UK based rival tracking app cost £12 million over a 3 month period, but was eventually rejected due to battery life issues, privacy concerns over Bluetooth’s potentially invasive interaction with, and data collection from, other apps installed on the device such as Facebook and Twitter. As a consequence, the Apple and Android app was adopted even with the concerns over restrictions of location data.

As the UK returns to a quasi-normal state with Phase 2 of lockdown lifting measures being rolled out today, this news comes as a blow for the Department of Health who have released a statement reassuring the public that the update blockage does not affect the overall functionality of the NHS COVID-19 app and that there are “discussions ongoing with our partners to provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public”

Instead of the updated version, the previous form of the app will still be obtainable in both the Google Play and iOS App Stores.


Google and Apple unite over user privacy

 

Google and Apple’s respective CEOs have joined forces over the issue of customer privacy, with Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly refusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ‘backdoor’ access to iPhone software.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai backed Apple’s decision on Twitter, arguing that assisting the FBI to gain such access to a private individual’s smartphone would be a ’troubling precedent.’

The mobile phone privacy dispute with the FBI over encryption comes 2 months after Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, with investigators demanding that Apple now assist the authorities in accessing Farook Malik’s iPhone 5C.

Both Apple and Google argue that ‘backdoor’ decryption would put the privacy of millions of ordinary smartphone users at risk from Government intrusion, with Tim Cook famously arguing that ‘You can’t have a back door that’s only for the good guys’. In theory, each iPhone’s encryption method is unique, and Apple argue that there should be no possible method for accessing a given user’s data.

On Tuesday however a Federal Judge ordered Apple to disable Farook Malik’s suspected phone setting which enforces usage delays or wipes the iPhone in the event of multiple incorrect password attempts, giving the FBI the opportunity to automatically test millions of possible passwords without penalty.

Both companies’ actions are being driven by the issue of reputation: giving law enforcement authorities the ability to access an individual’s data would utterly undermine smartphone manufacturers’ advertisement of user security.

With neither side willing to back down, expect the dispute to go to the courts, with the key issue being whether Apple can control permitted access to this iPhone, and this iPhone only.

 

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Has Microsoft been tracking your Computer?

 

Almost certainly – but don’t panic. Details of anonymous data gathered from Windows 10 users were released this week, with Microsoft publishing more usage information surrounding Windows 10 tracking.

In a blog post, Microsoft explained that the data is gathered for “Standard diagnostic, anonymous analytics that enables us to deliver the best Windows 10 experience possible.”

Via Windows 10 tracking, Microsoft have now measured more than 200 million active devices running the new operating system, 2.4 billion search questions asked of Virtual Assistant Cortana, and more than 44.5 billion minutes spent using the new Microsoft ‘Edge’ browser.

Routine data collection is unlikely to concern most users – and has clearly been announced to show Windows 10’s success. Microsoft also casually notes that the new operating system, released in the summer of 2015, has been “Outpacing… Windows 8 by nearly 400%.”

The accelerating adoption of Windows 10, including among 22 million Enterprise and Education customers, offers Microsoft renewed hope for growing the user base of associated products, such as Azure cloud computing, Windows Phone and the impressive Office365.

If concerned, users can ‘turn off’ all feedback (aside from error reports) by setting the feedback option to ‘Basic’ in their settings.

Taking a more nuanced view, this admission illustrates an industry ever more capable (and willing) to be flexible with privacy concerns of customers in the quest for the perfect user experience.

 

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